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Soviet AIDS Toll, Medical System Linked

June 23, 1989|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A 10-year-old boy, infected with the AIDS virus while being treated for a heart defect in a Soviet hospital, has died in the southern Russian city of Rostov--the latest victim of the widespread use here of unsterilized syringes and other medical equipment.

The case, reported by the government newspaper Izvestia on Thursday, was the third of its kind, according to Soviet officials, who now acknowledge that the AIDS virus is being spread through the country's medical system.

Two other children, a 2-year-old girl and a year-old boy, also apparently contracted the virus through the use of contaminated equipment at a local children's hospital in Rostov, the paper said, and both are now seriously ill, suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

The 10-year-old died, Izvestia said, after the loss of his natural immunity to disease weakened him and made him vulnerable to the heart problems he previously had been able to resist.

The boy's death brought to five the number of Soviet citizens whose deaths have been officially attributed to AIDS-related diseases; three foreigners have also died here from AIDS, health officials have said.

258 Carriers Registered

Soviet health authorities said earlier this month that they had registered 258 Soviet citizens as carriers of the human immunodeficiency virus, an increase of 35% from the month before.

To prevent the further spread of the disease through the country's medical system will require an immediate reorganization of health care, Alexander Kondrusev, a deputy health minister, told Izvestia.

"Sterilization at all stages of examination and treatment is the main way to halt the spread of the disease," Kondrusev said. "But not only should the rules for medical personnel be made stricter, the whole state of our clinics should be changed. This is a huge task, but it must be solved immediately at state level."

Criticizing the country's medical care system for slack standards and haphazard hygiene, Izvestia and other major Soviet newspapers have suggested that AIDS is now spreading faster through the nation's hospitals than through sexual contacts.

Soviet medical personnel, castigated almost daily now for jeopardizing the health of those entrusted to them, are complaining in return that they often lack sufficient equipment to sterilize syringes--there is an extreme shortage of disposable syringes--and other instruments after each use, and they cannot get the equipment.

And officials at the Soviet wholesale firm that buys and distributes medical equipment told Izvestia that factories, many of them in the defense industry, are refusing to manufacture the sterilizers and other much-needed equipment.

In Rostov, for example, a factory that manufactures machinery for nuclear power plants is working at only half of its capacity and could easily make the sterilizers that are in such short supply, local officials told Izvestia, but so far it has declined. Other Rostov factories, including defense plants, have similarly said they are not against retooling to produce the equipment, but none has moved to do so. Only newly formed cooperative enterprises are trying to meet the need.

"We are counting kopecks and forgetting our health," Izvestia said.

Even if there were enough autoclaves and other equipment to sterilize syringes and other medical instruments, the problem would remain, Izvestia said, because no precautions are being taken at most dental clinics, medical laboratories and some surgical units.

Although Kondrusev said the route of the virus has not yet been fully traced, it may have been brought to Rostov when dozens of children from another city, Elista, were taken to a central hospitals in regional centers, including Rostov, for treatment of what proved to be AIDS-related diseases late last year.

More than 10 children were found last month to have contracted the AIDS virus from the Elista children in a Volgograd clinic.

The children from Elista had themselves been infected, probably from unsterilized syringes, while receiving medical care, Soviet officials have said. At least 46 children and 10 adults were infected with the AIDS virus at the Elista hospital, according to earlier reports.

A team of specialists, flown from Moscow, is now screening more than 300 other people, most of them children, who were treated at the Rostov children's hospital and two other local hospitals at that time, Izvestia said.

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